New intelligence chief announced

The new chief of MI6, Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, will be Sir John Sawers, currently Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Downing Street announced today.

Sir John will take up his job in early November, replacing Sir John Scarlett who has spent more than five years in the post, having switched there from his controversial role as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the run up to the Iraq war.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman said: "Sir John Scarlett has done an important and valuable job in guiding the SIS through a period of change and making a real contribution to protecting Britain from international terrorism and other global threats."

The spokesman insisted Sir John Scarlett's move had no connection whatsoever with the impending inquiry into the Iraq war, at which he is expected to be a key witness.

Sir John Sawers, a career diplomat, had previously been the Foreign Office's political director and also worked as an envoy in Baghdad and as foreign affairs adviser to ex-premier Tony Blair in No 10.

During his time in that post, 1999-2001, Sir John was heavily involved in the Kosovo conflict and the Northern Ireland peace process.

He has also worked in the British Embassy in Washington and has been ambassador to Cairo.

He worked in South Africa between 1988 and 1991 during the initial stages of the end of apartheid.

But, intriguingly, the Downing Street announcement said Sir John was "re-joining SIS".

Mr Brown's spokesman said it would "not be appropriate" to say when he had left SIS.

His appointment was confirmed by Foreign Secretary David Miliband and formally approved by Mr Brown.

Sir John, 52, studied physics and philosophy at Nottingham University, and also attended the universities of St Andrews, Witwatersrand in South Africa and Harvard in the US.

His official Foreign Office biography lists his interests as the theatre, hiking and sport, especially tennis and cycling. His wife, Shelley, is a teacher. They have three grown-up children.

His replacement as the UK Permanent Representative to the UN has yet to be announced.